Philadelphia has a embarrassment of riches when it comes to tourist destinations. Like history? We’ve got the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Betsy Ross House. Looking for a museum? Check out the Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, or numerous other places that will boost your cultural appreciation. If you’re hungry, you can stop by Reading Terminal Market. Or Chinatown. Or you can visit 9th & Passyunk and grab a cheesesteak at Pat’s and/or Geno’s. And yeah, we get it. Many locals prefer Jim’s or Tony Luke’s or Steve’s, but out of towners seem to gravitate to this South Philly intersection, where they can get a steak sandwich wiz wit 24 hours a day.
You’d think, given the number of people that visit this intersection every year, there would be other thriving businesses in this immediate area. But aside from Garage, we don’t believe there’s much juice for other businesses nearby. The situation certainly isn’t helped by the huge vacant lot on the northeast corner of 9th & Wharton which has been sitting empty for almost thirty years. We first brought this parcel to your attention back in 2012, and were thrilled a couple years later when developer Paul Mirabello purchased the property with an eye toward redevelopment. But aside from a PHS beer garden in 2015, we haven’t seen any action here.
Just because nothing has happened here in terms of construction doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of action behind the scenes. The developer has come before the community numerous times over the last few years with development concepts for this property, but has met resistance from neighbors who prefer residential development to something mixed-use. The last iteration that came across our radar came around at the end of 2015 and included two town homes and a mixed-use building with 18 apartments and 4,000 sqft of retail space. Passyunk Post provided a rendering of the proposal, which (obviously) didn’t come to pass.
The developer is giving it another try, and will be presenting this week at the ZBA. According to the Passyunk Square Civic Association website, the newest version of the plan includes three town homes and a five-story mixed-use building at the corner with 25 apartments and retail on the first floor. The neighborhood zoning committee voted 5-4 in non-opposition and a straw poll among neighbors had a 20-3 non-opposition vote. This gives us a good indication that the project is in a pretty good position to get approved at the ZBA, at which point this property will finally get redeveloped.
We didn’t attend the community meeting for this project, and we’re pretty sure we’re missing something with this project. The community was previously opposed to a shorter building with a lower unit count, so it seems a little odd that the vast majority wouldn’t take issue with the newest version of the project. Perhaps someone who attended the meeting can fill in the blanks and help us understand what changed from the perspective of the near neighbors?
Update: A reader reached out and shared some additional details. First, it’s a different developer that’s attempting to build here, and they have the property under agreement with a zoning contingency. Also, the details of the project have evolved further and it now calls for a four-story building at the corner with 21 apartments and ground-floor commercial, along with three homes on Wharton Street. Fingers crossed the ZBA says ok.